Whether Conservative Homeschooled Kids Should Read Non-Christian Literature


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If we would not send our kids off to be taught by the public schools, what makes the reading of great literature any different or better?

For one thing, where there is no difference, concerned parents are certainly free to decide to opt out of reading certain books with their kids that they do not feel equipped to work through with them. “All things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial.”

Where reading a given work, either at all or else at a given point, would not be beneficial, don’t read it!

Beyond this, it’s important to ask the question of what all constitutes a benefit.

The key difference to my mind ought to be whether the parents concerned can teach their kids – both objectively and by example – to read actively rather than passively.

Passively Reading means engaging the work on a superficial level without second-guessing whether or how the claims being made therein are good, true, praiseworthy, wise, etc.

Actively Reading, on the other hand, requires paying close attention to what is being claimed or alleged and testing the work against an objective measure of truth, goodness, and beauty. And for Christians, this means comparing the claims of the literature to what God’s Word says is true, good, and beautiful.

There is then to my mind a great measure of difference between, on the one hand, your kid going through trashy books promoting godlessness, sin, and folly in the public schools; and on the other hand, your kid going through works of great literature at home with your help.

The pressure to conform, affirm, and accept is stacked against your kid in the public schools when they’re being told by their peers and teachers alike to affirm the trashiness. In the public schools, your kid will be mocked for even entertaining the premise that we want to please God in keeping a close watch over our life and doctrine as Christians.

They probably won’t even get off the ground in critically engaging the work; or, if they do, they will at least get no help from their teachers and peers who engage the material in a committedly secular, godless way.

At home, by contrast, your job as a Christian parent overseeing your child’s education is to encourage and teach your kids to affirm what is good and to reject what is bad. This requires knowing what is good, true, and beautiful, but it does not require avoiding all content which even just portrays sin and folly, since that would mean avoiding even study of the Bible.

For that matter, in the New Testament, we see the Apostle Paul being familiar enough with Greek poets and philosophers that he quoted them casually to those he was teaching and preaching the gospel to. But how and why did Paul do this? That is important to note, particularly where he did so without affirming or promoting everything said, written, done, and believed by the pagans he was quoting.

When Paul writes that all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial, he says he will not be made a slave to anything. Practically speaking, on this topic, that may mean we are free to not engage extra-biblical works. But we should not become a slave to avoidance. That may also mean we are free to engage extra-biblical works, but that we need to take care that no one – including authors of great literature – takes us captive by vain and human philosophy.

The choice of whether or not to read and engage with great works of literature by non-Christians should pass the twin tests, then: of providing a benefit on the one hand, and avoiding enslavement on the other. We want the utmost of the first for ourselves and our children, but we do not want any of the latter for anyone, especially our children.

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